CLEVELAND — Tampa’s Pete Alonso was excited just for the opportunity to compete in the All-Star Home Run Derby as the latest accomplishment in his amazing rookie season with the Mets.
Then he went out and made the most of it, beating Toronto’s highly touted Vlad Guerrero Jr. for the title in the all-rookie final round was even more thrilling.
Alonso won the final round 23-22, benefiting from Guerrero being extended to three tiebreakers in his semifinal round matchup with Joc Pederson. Guerrero hit 91 for the day, Alonso needing only 57 for the title, which he celebrated, naturally, with a bat toss.
"Dealt with some adversity but we overcame, pretty much just survive and advance,'' Alonso said. "It was really special. .... It was fun. It was fun to be a part of. ... This is surreal.''
The derby win wasn’t that surprising given how pretty much everything else has worked out for Alonso, 24, this season.
He made his major-league debut after earning a spot on the opening day roster. He showed he belonged by launching home runs at a rookie record pace, his 30 at the break tied for second overall in the majors. He earned selection to the NL All-Star team in addition to the derby invite.
Alonso, the No. 2 seed, got off to a good start, ousting Cleveland’s Carlos Santana in the first of the four-minute rounds, 14-13, with a long of 466 feet. He also got booed by the Progressive Field crowd rooting for the hometown hitter, and played to the crowd, raising his arms in triumph.
"I didn’t think I’d ever be booed at a home run derby to be honest with you,'' Alonso said.
Alonso then eliminated Atlanta’s Ronald Acuna Jr. in the second round, 20-19, with a long of 467. He celebrated that by slapping hands and bumping chests twice with his pitcher, cousin Derek Morgan.
Alonso earned the 30 second bonus time in each round for hitting two or more homers of 440 feet, but didn’t need it, which was a big help in conserving energy, which was a key piece of advice he got going into it.
"You’ve got to go in with kind of a killer instinct. It doesn’t matter how many you hit, you just need to have one more than the guy you’re facing,'' Alonso said. “I’m really happy that I didn’t have to swing a lot going into the extra rounds. .. I feel like conserving energy was huge.''
Guerrero, Toronto’s highly touted rookie, started his night by easily eliminating top-seeded Matt Chapman, a late replacement for Milwaukee’s Christian Yelich, 29-13.
Guerrero then survived an epic and somewhat enthralling battle with Los Angeles’ Pederson, that took three tiebreakers before he advanced 40-39.
“I got tired, but that’s not why I lost,'' Guerrero said in Spanish. "There are no excuses. He hit more home runs than me and he won.”
Alonso called the Guerrero-Pederson duel "elite hitting, some of the best rounds of BP I’ve ever watched. I think that was even better than the Josh Hamilton round (in 2008). ... That was a helluva show. I don’t know if we’re ever going to see that again. That was special.''
That set up the final, and allowed Alonso to add to his litany of accomplishments.
Prior to the derby he was asked what about his season stood out the most.
“I don't know,’’ he said. “I can’t pinpoint one thing because it's all just been so extremely special. For me I'm living a fantasy right now. I just feel blessed. I'm sure I sound like a broken record but it's true. I feel like the luckiest guy in the world. I'm just so happy to be here.’’
As cliché as that sounds, Alonso, 24, has a way to make you want to believe him.
Especially given all he had to do to get here, going undrafted out of Plant High and having to convince pro scouts what he did at the University of Florida would translate to success at a higher level.
How did he do it?
“Hard work, determination and constant belief in yourself. If you believe in something and you work for it, the sky's the limit,’’ he said.
“I still see myself as just a kid. To sit here justifies all the hard work, the preparation and all the hardships I had to go through in my career. I just feel really blessed to be here. I'm really happy that I've been able to perform at a high level I want to continue that.’’
And he knows how many people around Tampa, Gainesville and the minor leagues helped him since he was a second-round pick in 2016.
“I'm just really grateful I had this wonderful opportunity and I'm just looking to make all the people that gave me the thumbs up, the people that believed in me, I'm just looking to make those people proud and prove them right.’’
He had plenty of support on Monday, as both of his parents grew up in Ohio and more then 30 of them were in the stands, along with others from Tampa and elsewhere.
The derby comes with a $1 million prize, and while Alonso, making the major-league minimum of $555,000 joked he could use the money for his upcoming wedding, he had more benevolent plans. Noting that both his grandfathers did military service, he planned to donate 5 percent to the Wounded Warriors program and another 5 percent to the New York-based Tunnel to Towers Foundation that benefits first responders.
Alonso said his first home run derby came when he was playing
He also was sporting a large medallion around his neck he got from rapper Daddy Yankee.
"It’s sweet. It even spins,'' Alonso said. "So I didn’t know this was a thing, but I’m very happy that, I’m very willing to accept this. This is cool. I think I might play the game (Tuesday) with with this on.''
Contact Marc Topkin at email@example.com. Follow @TBTimes_Rays.